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Kono faces intractable opposition — from his own party

16 9 1

As the ruling Liberal Democratic Party holds its leadership election Wednesday, a key question for many Japanese and outside observers remains the candidates’ positions on China.

While there appears to be little space between the two leading candidates, former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and the vaccine czar and administrative reform minister, Taro Kono, there is deep concern among parts of the LDP, including senior leaders, about Kono on this issue. It will have implications for governing if Kono does indeed win the party ballot and the LDP prevails in the national election that will follow.

China is a rival with Japan for regional leadership and has irredentist claims to Japanese territory (the Senkaku Islands and even Okinawa in more expansive moments). Japanese are nervous about Beijing’s argument that it controls the South China Sea, which straddles the sea lanes that carry this country’s vital trade. A conflict with Taiwan to realize Beijing’s long-held dream of reunification with China is considered a threat to Japan’s own security, one that is growing ever more real and immediate.

That foundational view of China — friend or foe, insatiable aggressor or mere defender of long-denied national interests — shapes thinking in Japan about the utility and significance of the alliance with the United States and the contours and content of national defense policy.

Security concerns are balanced — for some Japanese — by dependence on China for economic growth. When Trump administration officials pressed for decoupling as the U.S.-China trade war intensified, business executives here professed that the China market was central to their future plans and growth strategies. The next prime minister, like his last two predecessors, will have to thread an ever-shrinking needle between national........

© The Japan Times

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